Schumer Asks FTC To Investigate Rx Drug Promotional Tactics Used by Manufacturers, Pharmacies
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate advertising programs used by drug makers and pharmacies to promote certain drugs to their customers through letters and phone calls, the Wall Street Journal reports. Under the programs, pharmaceutical companies contract with pharmacies to call or send letters to customers urging them to order refills or switch to a newer version of a brand-name medication. Such contracts are "another disturbing tactic that the brand-name drug industry is using to prevent competition in the pharmaceutical marketplace," Schumer wrote in a letter to FTC Chair Timothy Muris that asks the agency to investigate the programs' impact on drug prices. The letter comes after the Journal reported last week that the letters sent by pharmacies to their customers "often tout more-expensive forms of the patient's current medications, as well as promote drugs whose patents are about to expire" and are set to face generic competition. Some of the contracts between pharmacies and drug makers also restrict pharmacy chains from "participating in similar programs for competing medications, including generic equivalents," the Journal reports. "These letters pre-empt the patient-doctor relationship, predisposing patients to a more costly course of treatment before they have had a chance to speak with their doctors," Schumer wrote. Two industry groups defended the promotion programs, saying they provide more information for consumers. "A more-informed patient is a healthy patient," Crystal Wright, a spokesperson for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said, adding that changes in medications must be approved by doctors. Mark Grayson, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "Obviously, these activities point to the great competition among pharmaceutical companies. Isn't that what [Schumer] is trying to foster?" (Zimmerman/Armstrong, Wall Street Journal, 5/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.